Sunday, July 17, 2005

Son Volt's New "Okemah and the Melody of Riot" - Jay Farrar Channels Woody Guthrie

Jay Farrar seems to be channeling Woody Guthrie's spirit on Son Volt's latest CD "Okemah and the Melody of Riot". Here's a MP3 of "Atmosphere" on Bars and Guitars. Much as Jeff Tweedy & Billy Bragg channeled Woody Guthrie on Mermaid Ave. in 1998, "Okemah" contains the spirit of folk legend Guthrie. Okemah, Oklahoma was the birthplace of Woody Guthrie, author of one the "most scathing American ballads ever written 'This Land Is Your Land' ".

"Okemah and the Melody of Riot" is on DualDisc with a documentary "Break Through The Lens" on the flip side. The DVD has studio footage, an interview with Jay Farrar and a live performances of "Afterglow 61", "Atmosphere", "Medication" & "Joe Citizen Blues".

From Lexington Herald-Leader:
"Guitars grope and dive like the vintage Crazy Horse records of Neil Young. Farrar almost passively describes such a sound on Okemah's "Afterglow 61" as "electrified traditional."

Pitchfork Review by Stephen M. Deusner (via DiatribeR):

"Okemah proves to be not just 13 protest songs, but 13 songs about protest songs. Farrar believes unquestioningly in music's ability to affect tremendous social change, soothe a nation, or stop an "endless war with no moral face." That idea still sounds as attractive and optimistic now as it was 70 years ago when Guthrie sang about the Dust Bowl, and although he doesn't seem to consider that perhaps reverent hindsight grants protest music most of its power, Farrar wants to resurrect that musical populism as a weapon against the current administration."

The spirit of Woody Guthrie infuses Son Volt's "Okemah and the Melody of Riot"

The channeling of Woodie Guthrie even goes right to the CD cover's design which evokes the famous line "This Machine Kills Fascists".

Over on SOUND THE SIRENS in a review by Luke Daniel Rush who is a little less fond of protest songs:
"Farrar spends a fair amount of time grinding his rusty ax against that great immovable object known as the United States government, but after seven years on the sidelines and two contentious elections by the boards, you'd expect that he might have a missive or two tucked away in the coffers. It might have been a more noble artistic motion had not Farrar drawn such a high number at the Protest Song deli counter. Simply put, it ain't as fresh a topic as it used to be. For each pertinent lyric like "Piecemeal solutions will only leave scars / Bandages for nosebleeds," there's a simple, unveiled screed like "His daddy has a job in Washington / Wants to raise a Harvard son / Junior liked to let his hair down / Only trouble is, word gets around..." Fortunately, it becomes easy to revel in the power chords on "Jet Pilot" even as Farrar invokes silly lines like "everyone needs a hunting pal" and the well-worn "the revolution will be televised."

Jay Farrar and Son Volt pick up on the resurgence of the good old fashioned American protest song similar to Green Day's "American Idiot" and Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now!"
american idiot steve-earle autograph

Woody Guthrie as an album cover design theme

A review in the Washington Post - Son Volt, a Reenergized Force by Allison Stewart:

"There are enough great, unadorned rock tracks here to cover a multitude of sins: "Who" and the full-tilt version of "World Waits for You" (the latter also shows up as a piano ballad, equally fine) are Farrar at his best, streamlined and solid, while "Afterglow 61" is the latest in an illustrious line of Son Volt highway songs.

Like the rest of "Okemah," "Afterglow 61" functions on two levels, with varying degrees of success. As a travelogue through the mythic Middle America of Woody Guthrie and Mark Twain, it's terrific. As a solemn index of present-day wartime indignities, it's a bit of a muddle.

Farrar typically traffics in gently opaque songs about love and doubt dispensed in a kindly, craggy tenor that falls somewhere between Ron Wood and Hal Holbrook in "Mark Twain Tonight!" But "Okemah" has teeth. It's a high-minded, resolute indictment of the Iraq war that faces the same near-insurmountable difficulties as all political albums: Make your references too topical and risk a limited shelf life; make them too vague and risk no one noticing. With an acrobatic impressiveness, "Okemah" manages both. It's too specific in some places (the protagonist of "Jet Pilot" "found a way to get a passing grade / Made it to the world stage / A hemisphere away death is on display." Go on, try to guess whom it's about), too vague in others ("Atmosphere," with its allusions to "smoke plume twilight / American tears," seems to be referencing Sept. 11, 2001, but it's anybody's guess)."

From a review on KINGBLIND on the album's lyrics and Farrar's songwriting:
"Farrar evokes Guthrie as a muse even in the album's title—Guthrie's birthplace is Okemah, Oklahoma—but it's in his passionate songwriting that he captures the soul and the sense of greater purpose that characterized Guthrie's work. "The revolution will be televised," Farrar promises on the blistering "Jet Pilot," as loaded and furious a political protest anthem as has been written during George W. Bush's second term so far, and he spends the album's 11 other tracks (12, technically, with two different arrangements of "World Waits For You") laying the groundwork for that revolution. He tackles matters of broad social unrest (calling out "madmen on both sides of the fence" on "Atmosphere") and profound personal disquiet (offering an insightful autocritique on "World Waits for You" when he sings, "Find strength from the words/Of those that went before/Take what you need/But leave even more") with equal gravity and aplomb."

And in review on EARVOLUTION by Morgan Clendaniel, he takes on the ghost of the legendary Uncle Tupelo and the spell it has cast on the "no depression" sounds' progenitors:
"It's really not fair, at this point, to continue using Uncle Tupelo as a barometer of either Farrar or Jeff Tweedy's solo success. Let's just say this: Farrar has made an album with as much volume, and as much anger, as any Tupelo record. There are no snippets of "found sound" or studio tricks here. But, let's also note that Son Volt and Wilco are a lot closer in attitude and style than either Farrar or Tweedy would like to admit. But maybe now it's time for Farrar's music to get a closer look, after a near-decade of Wilco-madness. And with Okemah and the Melody of Riot, Son Volt should reclaim some of the spotlight that unjustly dwindled in recent years."

More on Jay Farrar, and Uncle Tupelo and their relationship to Neil Young's music.

Lastly, got a nice timely note from the band called Okemah. Damian writes: "Your efforts have influenced my view on music due to the artists I have discovered through your site. Me and my friends have put together a musical collaboration (Okemah) in tune with much of what you are doing. We are just getting off the ground in this humbling experience of music and the music world."

Check Okemah out.

The band Okemah performing live


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